April 2021 Church & State Magazine | Editorial

No one has ever accused freshman U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) of being particularly well informed. This is the man, after all, who once stated that the allies fought World War II to free Europe from socialism and who, in describing the three branches of federal government, labeled them the House, the Senate and the executive.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Tuberville used the occasion of his first speech on the Senate floor to spread misinformation about the role of religion in public schools.

“We’ve got to start teaching our young people moral values again,” Tuberville said March 1. “That starts with putting God and prayer back in schools.”

Tuberville crammed a lot of misinformation into just two sentences.

For starters, parents teach young people moral values all the time. Anyone who has raised children will tell you it’s an important part of the job. Some use religion as the anchor, while others do not. Public schools reinforce this instruction by making it clear that there are certain infractions (cheating, lying, bullying, etc.) that merit punishment, and by rewarding those students who study hard, help their peers and get active in their communities.

As for putting God and prayer back into the schools, we don’t need to do that because they never left. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 and ’63 struck down school-sponsored, compulsory forms of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. They did this in part because requiring children to take part in worship against their will violated their rights and the rights of their parents.

The high court did not expel all prayers from public schools. Students are free to pray today in an individual, non-disruptive fashion. Many undoubtedly do so. Students also have the right to read religious books during any free time they may have during the school day. They may also form voluntary, student-run religious clubs at the secondary school level. Finally, students may learn about religion as an academic subject and study its role on history, art, literature and so on.

That’s a lot of options for a subject that has supposedly been ban­ned from public schools!

Tuberville’s ill-informed comments may play well with the base back home, but they betray a great ignorance of what actually goes on in public education today when it comes to religion. He would do well to get acquainted with reality before he decides to address this issue again.